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Waiting For The Barbarians Paperback – 2 Sep 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (2 Sept. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099465930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099465935
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 55,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

"A real literary event" --Irving Howe, The New York Times Book Review (front-page review)

"I have known few authors who can evoke such a wilderness in the heart of a man.... Mr. Coetzee knows the elusive terror of Kafka." --Bernard Levin, The Sunday Times (London)

"A real literary event" Irving Howe, The New York Times Book Review (front-page review)

"I have known few authors who can evoke such a wilderness in the heart of a man.... Mr. Coetzee knows the elusive terror of Kafka." Bernard Levin, The Sunday Times (London)"

"A real literary event" Irving Howe, The New York Times Book Review (front-page review)

"I have known few authors who can evoke such a wilderness in the heart of a man.... Mr. Coetzee knows the elusive terror of Kafka." Bernard Levin, The Sunday Times (London)

"

-A real literary event- --Irving Howe, The New York Times Book Review (front-page review)

-I have known few authors who can evoke such a wilderness in the heart of a man.... Mr. Coetzee knows the elusive terror of Kafka.- --Bernard Levin, The Sunday Times (London)

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

‘A remarkable and original book’ Graham Greene

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The story is narrated by the unnamed magistrate of a small colonial town that exists as the territorial frontier of ‘the Empire’ yet recognizable as a 'universalized'’ version of South Africa. The Magistrate’s peaceful existence comes to an end with the Empire’s declaration of a state of emergency and the Third Bureau, a police force are sent due to rumours that the area's indigenous people, called ‘barbarians’ by the colonists, are preparing to attack the town. It is a disturbing story of empire, imperialism, slavery, torture and colonialism. The Third Bureau arrive but there are no barbarians there so they venture out into the wildness where they are convinced the barbarians must be gathered waiting to attack but there are no army of barbarians waiting for them. This is a common theme throughout the story, that the actual spectre of the barbarians, the Other being at the gates about to invade, is more powerful than the reality, because people like Empire need a scapegoat, someone to blame when things go wrong, someone to vent their anger and rage at. It would seem blame is a mirror in which you see every face but your own.
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Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this softly written, almost poetic book. It is an allegorical tale, exploring oppression, guilt and personal morality, and set in a strange and timeless place 'on the edge of the Empire:' The story of a gentle man whose motives are always mixed, but who in the end is the prime force for decency and humanity in the enclosed world he inhabits. Well written in a simple and earthy style that still allows the author to handle the broad themes of guilt and redemption. Coetzee creates a real sense of life on the edge of a literal and metaphysical desert, and by the end of the book, there is no doubt just who the Barbarians are.
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For me, this is the best of Coetzee's books. Rarely has this form of human loneliness been expressed with the same poetic and tragic ease. The desert in the story seems to grow and grow unrelentingly, stopping not even to allow the captain space to breathe. And behind the soft exposition of the plight of the isolated town in the story is pin-sharp writing; not a word has been wasted. By his very economy with words, Coetzee takes us to the edge of the abyss and we only realise it when staring hard into it. A remarkable book, and nothing less than a masterpiece.
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Poetic prose at its most powerful. 'We are the great miracle of creation!' screams The Magistrate in a desperate attempt to discourage The Colonel's men from smashing the skulls of the captive Barbarians with hammers. But beware of what you ask of your reader. Coetzee's novel asks questions; who should make the laws, are there occasions when they can be broken, where does cruelty come from, why does mankind have a compulsion to humiliate his neighbour, how do we deal with our sexuality, is old age as terrifying as we think it is? And just as satire has been proven not to change the behaviour of those who are satirized why should this novel make any difference to Man? Though the questions could not be more beautifully posed they are too monumental for each of us to even begin to engage with, and the feelings they produce in the reader are anger, guilt, frustration, and depression. In a hundred years time there will still be novels like this asking exactly the same questions.
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Format: Paperback
J M Coetzee's 1980 allegorical gem is heavily influenced by Dino Buzzati's Tartar Steppe, perhaps the most existentially melancholic novel of the twentieth century. Both are set in remote outposts in vast empty wildernesses where man and his constructions are literally just dots on the horizon. In each book there is an enemy, undefined except by rumour and by name: the northerners in Buzzati, the barbarians in Coetzee (though he does once refer to them as northerners, thus signifying his debt to Buzzati). However, the other worldliness of the Tartar Steppe is given a definite point of reference in Waiting for the Barbarians; that of a repressive imperial state resembling in theme, if not environment, Vorster's apartheid South Africa.
The narrator is a lonely magistrate in a frontier town who, though far from the centre of the oppressive state security apparatus, is complicit in its existence by administering its laws (and abusing his position by frequent sexual dalliances with vulnerable women). It doesn't take participation, just indifference, a blind eye. Although always uneasy about his role in the system, he continues as benignly as possible in order to lead a quiet life. It is only on the arrival of a group of interrogators, and having witnessed their arbitrary and brutal methods, that he instinctively rebels. At one point a girl is invited to pick up a rod and beat a prisoner in the yard. `You are depraving these people!' he shouts. He is thus branded an enemy of the state and a `barbarian lover' and committed to prison and subjected to a regime of humiliation and degradation. The breathless tension that follows is extraordinary at times.
All tyrannies survive on a diet of rumour, propaganda and lies, and eventually lose touch with reality and fall.
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Format: Paperback
The more I read of Coetzee the more I appreciate his work. This book is a slim volume, but contains so much. The narrative reflects the dicotomy of one mans life. The main character, a Magistrate in an outpost town, is a flawed human, trying to do the right thing as often as he can. As with so much of Coetzees work this novel reaches out and asks much of the reader, it will bring things to the surface, make you consider yourself and your actions. We are all the Magistrate of the novel in one way or another.
The style of the novel is so sparse and yet incredibly dense, this is not a book you will read quickly, it needs your full attention, to absorb the cahracters and their motives. While I read it I kept comparing it to the current state of our World and the indiviuals place in it. I'm certain this was Coetzees aim and he affects it brilliantly.
You will not do better then JM Coetzee.
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